Feeling Like God

Feeling Like God

You were created in the image of God, which means that many of your feelings are echoes of his own. But you've been told not to trust your emotions—that they are not a significant part of your relationship with him. If God wants our minds and our actions to align with his nature, why wouldn't he also want our feelings to align with his heart? What if synchronizing with his compassion, joy, anger, grief, jealousy—all of which are thoroughly scriptural feelings of God—is a huge part of what it means to follow him?

Millions of people feel distant and disconnected from God because they have focused exclusively on reading God's Word and doing it, not realizing that emotional bonds are vital to relationships. We don't determine truth by our feelings but, as in any relationship, we grow closer to God through them. Feeling Like God makes a compelling case that the emotional side of discipleship is a vital but missing ingredient in knowing him.

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Tyndale 2008, paperback and e-book
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"I could be kind of human, if I only had a heart." Those words were once sung by a tin man on a yellow brick road, but they could just as easily be sung by many Christians today. The religious instinct in us thinks we need to become devoid of personal preferences in order to be truly spiritual—kind of like the "empty kettle" the tin man felt he was. Little did he know that his empty-vessel condition would become a highly regarded commodity in much of modern Christendom.

Think that's an exaggeration? Consider how many times you've heard a message on emptying yourself and being filled with the Spirit of God. It's a great biblical principle, depending on how you define empty, but it translates badly. Many believers hear in that lesson a command to get rid of everything that's in them, so they set about deconstructing the image of God that their Creator intended for them to carry. You have a desire to do something? Remember, for a Christian it's always "not my will by thine." You find pleasure in something that doesn't appear to directly impact the Kingdom of God? Live sacrificially; you're a steward of the gifts God has given you. You're stirred by an emotion? Take up your cross and die daily. Your emotions will lead you astray.

Maybe that's an overstatement, but the fact is that many people, myself included, have tried to get rid of certain desires and feelings in the name of denying self, not realizing that those desires and feelings were placed in us by God as a means to pull us in a certain direction or share his heart with us. I've gone to schools and moved to cities that seemed most logical or appropriate for service when my heart was really in other places, all in an effort to deny self. I have a friend who went to seminary because he felt obligated to be "in ministry"—even though his real deisre was to make a spiritual impact in the corporate world, an arena where God eventually used him powerfully. History is full of people who chose a marriage partner for practicality rather than for genuine love because "the heart can lead astray." The result of denying God-given desires is almost always less fruitfulness for the Lord and less fulfillment for the individual, with ample regrets mixed in. When we deny everything in us, we're denying more than self. We're denying the Spirit who is at work in us both "to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Because we haven't learned to discern the difference between the self and the Spirit, we throw them out together. The result is perpetual emptiness and prolonged discouragement that God seems so distant.

Like the tin man, we want to be tender and gentle. And we could, if we only had a heart. But somewhere along the way, someone convinced us that we should be suspicious of our feelings—that the flesh is emotional and the spirit is constant and reliable. So in order to be spiritual, we do whatever we can to suppress our feelings and rely on God, not realizing that the feelings may have actually come from his Spirit.

What we really need to be occupied with as we grow into the likeness of Jesus is not denying human emotions but having the right ones at the right times to the right degree. We could do that much more easily if we really understood how God feels.

Think about the people you have an emotional connection with. How many of them became close to you through a constant, mutual denial of difficult feelings? How many of those relationships are based on an objective agreement rather than on shared emotional responses? How close do you get to someone when you feel differently on most issues? Or when one of you is intensely interested in an issue and the other is apathetic toward it? In other words, what peson close to you is not primarily close emotionally?

It's impossible to have any sort of intimacy with someone—including God—without an emotional connection. You may share information and understanding with a conversation partner, but unless both of you feel the same way about the information, you don't bond. You may work on a project with a colleague, involved in the same activity day in and day out, but unless you have the same interest and passion invested in that project, you don't bond. Emotions are the glue that cements relationships and makes them worthwhile.

© 2008 by Chris Tiegreen

©2013-present by chris tiegreen